By Ruzanna Stepanian
A court in Yerevan on Monday gave military prosecutors the green light to continue their investigation into mysterious killings of two Armenian soldiers that has been dogged by allegations of a cover-up and grave human rights abuses.
The decision came in response to a petition filed by three other soldiers who were controversially convicted of committing the crime but later effectively acquitted by Armenia’s highest court. They demand that the case be removed from the jurisdiction of the Office of the Military Prosecutor and transferred to the Armenian police. The demand had already been rejected by the Office of the Prosecutor-General to which military prosecutors are subordinated.
The three young men were unexpectedly set free last December after spending nearly three years in prison on charges on murdering fellow conscripts Roman Yeghiazarian and Hovsep Mkrtumian in Nagorno-Karabakh in late 2003. In a landmark verdict, the Armenian Court of Cassation said the military prosecutors failed to substantiate the accusations and committed serious violations of due process, ordering a fresh inquiry. However, the court stopped short of formally acquitting the suspects, meaning that they remain under investigation and may theoretically be again put on trial.
According to their lawyer, Zaruhi Postanjian, the law-enforcement agency’s failure to investigate gross human rights abuses allegedly committed by its investigators exposes its unwillingness to solve the killings. “They want to make sure the investigation is proceeding endlessly, these young men get tired of that, cover up the case for lack of evidence, and keep the real culprits at large,” Postanjian charged after a Yerevan district court of first instance rejected her clients’ demand. She said she will appeal the ruling.
But Koryun Piloyan, an assistant prosecutor-general, dismissed Postanjian’s arguments, saying that the military prosecutors have the legal responsibility to investigate all crimes committed within Armenia’s Armed Forces. “Why would a prosecutor be disinterested in solving the case?” Piloyan told RFE/RL.
The case against the now demobilized soldiers is essentially based on an April 2004 “confession” made by one of them, Razmik Sargsian. The latter retracted the testimony shortly afterwards, saying that it was extracted by force. The two other soldiers also claim to have been badly ill-treated in custody.
Sargsian insisted on Monday that he incriminated himself and his comrades after being brutally tortured by investigators, including Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jahangirian, who led the probe in his previous capacity as Armenia’s chief military prosecutor. “Gagik Jahangirian personally slapped me when I was taken to his office,” he said. “He was angry because I was unable to raise my head and look him in the eyes due to the beatings. He cracked one of my teeth and dislocated my jaw.”